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How Memory Is Affected When Under Stress

Our bodies and mind are under continual bombardment from the normal trials and strains of the 21st century.  Of course a little stress can focus the mind and enhance performance.  However chronic stress can have a severe and detrimental effect on your mind and body.

We often think of stress in terms of "fight or flight" when we are personally in a threatening situation.  This triggers the release of chemicals such as adrenaline and cortisol in the brain to deal with the situation.  Your heart pounds faster, muscles tighten, blood pressure rises, breath quickens and your senses become sharper.  Our own perception is that stress is all about your own situation.  However the effects can be equally dramatic when it involves a loved one.  In fact the stress can be compounded as you can feel helpless in such situations.

If you have been in a medical emergency where a loved one has had an accident and the emergency services have been called, you will know that being able to relay important information about them is vitally important.  Hopefully, for many of you, this is a rare occurrence but imagine having a child, spouse or parent with a medical condition.  You will statistically be more likely to be in a situation where you are being relied upon to provide accurate information at the right time.

A recent case study we reported on our tap2tag wristbands highlighted the husband's difficulty in remembering his wife's postcode when she had had an epileptic seizure.  Fortunately she was wearing her tap2tag wristband and so all of her medical history and medication was available for the paramedics.  But if you cannot remember your postcode in a stressful situation, how would you cope if you also had to remember a long list of medication and dosages?  From my own personal experience I could not even remember my mother's date of birth when asked by the paramedics.  No matter how controlled you are in your normal lives, stress can have a dramatic effect.

The simple fact is Bigstock-Hippocampusthat stress has an impact on memory and emotion.  In fact it impacts the way in which the brain processes information and stores memories.  Chronic stress affects two important parts of the brain; the hippocampus and the amygdala.  Research published in 2013 in the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that the electrical signals in the brain associated with the formation of factual memories weaken while areas in the brain associated with emotion strengthen.  With an increase in stress our brains are wired to discount factual information and to rely heavily on emotional experiences.  Now apply this statement to a situation where your child has become unconscious and see how you might react.  Emotions will heighten and your ability to rely on facts reduces.

“Our findings suggest that the growing dominance of amygdalar activity over the hippocampus during and even after chronic stress may contribute to the enhanced emotional symptoms, alongside impaired cognitive function, seen in stress-related psychiatric disorders,” the researchers suggest.

So what can you do to reduce stress in an emergency situation?

First you need to understand that you are in a highly stressed situation.  You cannot do anything about it unless you recognise that you are under stress.  Take deep breaths and get oxygen into the brain and try to relax (easier said than done).  This will help to slow the heart rate.

And, of course, make sure you have a tap2tag device so that you can get access to the critical information in the event of a medical emergency.

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